Workstation Specialists WS2850 / Intel Xeon E5-2600 processor

27 March 2012

‘Sandy Bridge’ has finally arrived on Intel’s Xeon platform. We find out what this means for design viz and simulation by putting WS’ new dual Xeon through its paces

Product WS2850 / Intel Xeon E5-2600
Company name Workstation Specialists
Price £5,620

The dual processor Xeon workstation has become a mainstay for the design visualisation or simulation specialist.

Rendering software in particular thrives on CPU cores and a single processor Core i7 simply can’t match a dual Xeon for numbers.

But anyone who has invested in a powerful Xeon workstation in the last 12 months has had to accept a trade off. ‘Westmere’, Intel’s Xeon platform for 2011 was a generation behind Sandy Bridge. And while a dual processor ‘Westmere’ Xeon 5600 series workstation absolutely flew in heavily threaded operations like rendering, under most other tasks it came in second best to a single processor ‘Sandy Bridge’ Core i7 workstation.

This all changed with the long-awaited launch of Intel’s ‘Sandy Bridge’ Xeon E5-2600 series this month. The new Xeon platform combines the raw performance of ‘Sandy Bridge’ with up to 16 cores and 32 threads, which is 33% more cores than were available on Westmere.

Workstation Specialists is bringing the ‘Sandy Bridge’ Xeon to market in its new WS2850 ultra high-end desktop 3D graphics workstation.

The Derby firm gave DEVELOP3D a preview of this new Intel technology inside a pre-production machine, which featured a pair of Intel Xeon E5-2687W CPUs, a specialist workstation chip from the new E5-2600 series. We went straight to our suite of application benchmarks to see how it performed.

It came as no surprise to find that the WS2850 set a new record in our 3ds Max Design rendering benchmark. With a total of 16 cores and 32 threads, we’ve never thrown so much processing power at this task and the Intel Xeon E5-2687Ws didn’t disappoint.

The WS2850 also raised the stakes in our CAM benchmark where, incredibly, there was virtually no slow down in performance when we ran two or three tests at the same time. Sandy Bridge Xeon certainly looks to increase potential for true multi-tasking.

Unfortunately, the WS2850 didn’t impress as much in our other benchmarks, where GHz plays a much more important role than the number of CPU cores. Here the overclocked Core i7 workstations we regularly see at DEVELOP3D, which run at speeds of up to 4.5GHz, have a clear advantage. While the Xeon E5-2687W clocks up from 3.1GHz to 3.8GHz with Intel

Turbo Boost Technology 2.0, permanent overclocking is not possible with any of Intel’s new Xeon E5-2600 series chips.

The WS2850 is certainly not short of memory. Our test machine was kitted out with 32GB (8 x 4GB) of 1600MHz memory, which makes full use of the Xeon E5-2600’s quad channel memory controller. While this should be plenty for most power users, there are still eight free memory slots available for future upgrades and when using 32GB DIMMS capacity for an incredible 512GB.

Storage in the WS2850 is all about performance, with a 120GB Intel 520 Series Solid State Drive (550MB/s read / 520MB/s write) for system and two 1TB 7,200RPM SATA-2 drives configured in RAID 0 for fast access to large datasets.

The 2GB Nvidia Quadro 4000 graphics card gives a good balance between performance and cost and delivered a solid score in our 3D SolidWorks test. Design viz specialists looking to boost performance may look to boost 3D performance with an upgrade to a Quadro 5000 while, conversely, simulation specialists may be just as happy with a Quadro 2000.

With three additional PCI Express slots, the Quadro 4000 can also be supplemented by one or more Tesla GPUs to boost rendering performance in iRay enabled software, such as 3ds Max Design or Bunkspeed Shot, or simulation performance in GPU-enabled analysis applications, including Simulia Abaqus and Ansys.

Conclusion

It’s been a long time coming, but Intel’s new Xeon E5-2600 will certainly be welcomed with open arms by those who run applications with a thirst for processor cores. For rendering, there is currently no faster CPU out there and with eight cores per chip and increased memory bandwidth through a quad channel controller we expect a similar response from most simulation software.

Workstation Specialists has done an excellent job of integrating this into its standard workstation chassis and while our prototype machine wasn’t particularly quiet we expect WS to work its trademark acoustic magic as it brings the product to market.

Of course, like most dual processor workstations, the burden of two high-end Xeons weighs heavy with the overall cost of the machine coming in at £5,620. It’s a hefty price to pay, but not out of the ordinary for those that require instant access to buckets of processing power.


The Intel Xeon E5-2600 series

Intel’s new Xeon E5-2600 series builds on the foundations that made the ‘Sandy Bridge’ Intel Core i7 2600K (quad core) and Intel Core i7 3930K (six core) such popular choices for mainstream CAD.

But while the Core i7 is limited to one processor per workstation, the Xeon E5-2600 is able to pack two CPUs into a single machine. This makes it an ideal choice for specialist users of design viz or simulation applications, which can take advantage of multiple CPU cores.

The Xeon E5-2600 series also ups the ante in other key areas. It features up to eight CPU cores, two more than the top-end Core i7. It boasts increased memory performance through a quad channel memory controller and sports up to 20MB of L3 cache (2.5MB per core), both of which should boost performance when using solvers for Finite Element Analysis (FEA) or Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD).

There are lots of models in the new Xeon E5-2600 family — 15 standard and two low powered units. There’s also a dedicated ‘workstation’ chip, the Xeon E5-2687W, but most standard Xeon E5-2600 Series chips will be made available inside dual processor workstations.

While the high-end models, such as the Xeon E5-2687W, cost a pretty penny (£1,400 apiece), it’s probably a false economy to invest in two low-end Xeons. With only two or four CPU cores apiece two of these chips are unlikely to render faster than a single overclocked six core Intel Core i7 3930K. And because of the low GHz the performance in single threaded applications will also be significantly slower. 

See Intel.com for the full line up of Xeon E5-2600 CPUs.

To view comparative scores from other workstations please click here
For details of all our specific CAD/CAM/CAE benchmarks click here

Specifications

» 2 x Intel Xeon E5 2687W (eight core) processors (3.10GHz)
» 32GB (8 x 4GB) PC3-1600MHz Reg. ECC DDR-3 memory
» Nvidia Quadro 4000 (2GB) graphics
» 120GB Intel 520 Series SSD + 2 x 1TB 7,200RPM SATA-2 drives (RAID 0)
» Intel C600 Workstation chipset-based motherboard
» Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
» 36 months full parts & labour warranty e

CPU benchmarks

(secs - smaller is better)
CAD (SolidWorks) - 240
CAM (Delcam PowerMill)
1) 160 2) 160 3) 178
CAE (SolidWorks Simulation) - 90
Rendering (3ds Max Design 2011) - 79

Graphics benchmarks

(frames per sec - bigger is better)
CAD (SolidWorks) - 36

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